Over the past few months, this publication has been graced by a number of articles of the highest quality on Irish Catholicism. These articles, such as the one on Paul Cullen, illustrate in a beautiful manner the great philosophical and theological traditions of the Church in Ireland, making the case, both directly and indirectly, for the continued involvement of the faith in Ireland’s future.
To be honest, this has annoyed me greatly.
You see, I’m what you’d call a pagan. I’m not particularly happy with that label for a wide variety of reasons, chief among them is that, unlike Catholics, Irish Pagans, for the most part, seem utterly unable to engage with philosophy or theology in any meaningful way.
Intellectual Paganism, Modern and Historic:
This is not a trait inherent to polytheistic religions, living or otherwise. Both Hinduism and Shinto have libraries worth of philosophical and theological theory, a lot of which underpins the very existence of Indian and Japanese national identity respectively.
Looking closer to home, the tradition is just as prestigious. Perhaps the two greatest thinkers of all time, Plato and Aristotle were both clearly pagans, with perhaps Plato in particular leaning heavily into some of the more mysterious elements of European spiritual tradition with his characterizations of Socrates and Diotima.
In the postmodern world, European paganism has made leaps and bounds towards regaining the intellectual complexity and respectability that it held two thousand years before, mainly thanks to the work of pagans affiliated with the right.
Of particular note is Thomas Rowsell, who this publication has been lucky enough to interview. Rowsell’s work has consistently been exceptional, demonstrating a scholarly understanding of genetics, history, geography and pagan theology. What’s more, Rowsell packages his knowledge into videos of immense quality in regards to both script and cinematography.
As such, his videos have garnered millions of views online, earning him a significant degree of recognition across the right worldwide. Rowsell has proven himself to be a filmmaker of far greater insight and integrity than those commonly found in the mainstream of the BBC or RTÉ.
Historically, Irish polytheism too had great links to the intellectual. The druids, the in/famous religious leaders of Ireland, were frequently described as both natural and moral philosophers by Greek and Roman sources. Certain historians, such as Peter Berresford Ellis even ascribe Greek Pythagoreanism to Ancient Celtic religion, claiming that Pythagoras himself was instructed in philosophy by druids, and as a result shared a similar belief in reincarnation.
Of the more contemporary disciples of the Irish intellectual tradition regarding spirituality, W. B. Yeats is no doubt the most famous. Yeats over his many years worked tirelessly with occult spirituality, his practice and theory remaining constantly embedded in Irish tradition, and is responsible for preserving a great amount of Irish folklore through his work. Yeats wrote extensively on occult metaphysics in an attempt to ultimately understand the very nature of reality, compiling what was ultimately his own spiritual system in his book, A Vision. His occult work intertwined quite heavily with both his poetry and his politics, with his rightist, occultist views being best summarized in the poem The Second Coming, the short story Rosa Alchemica, and his preface to Ezra Pound’s Certain Noble Plays of Japan.
The Reign of Cat-Lady Paganism
So why, with paganism clearly containing within it the potential for great intellectual discussion and debate, does contemporary Irish paganism so sorely lack it? For some bizarre reason, this spiritual tradition, so intrinsically tied to philosophical inquiry, has given way almost completely to what can only be called cat-lady paganism.
Unlike the tradition that has come before it, cat-lady paganism has no respect for intellectual inquiry of any kind, especially if it could prove a belief right or wrong. Instead, ‘personal experience’, along with hierarchies of oppression, are championed above truth.
Let me assure you, trying to engage a cat-lady pagan in a philosophical or theological discussion is like trying to teach a brick to swim. Within cat-lady paganism, there is no room for intellectual engagement, especially if one attempts to make reference to the works of philosophers outside Irish paganism (so, any philosopher whose writings have survived to this day). It is due to the influence of this tradition (if you could even call it that) that Irish paganism right now is nothing more than a farce.
The most prominent spokesperson of this new sect, as far as I can see, is Lora O’Brien. Co-founder of the ‘Irish Pagan School’, O’Brien’s work seems to revolve around selling an intellectually bereft version of Irish spirituality to a mostly American audience. As such, there is a distinct, ‘intersectional’ tint to it that has no basis in Irish tradition, cultural or theological. Recurring notions within O’Brien’s work includes the idea that equality is a core value of the Irish as well as their Irish spiritual tradition, and that the Irish “ALWAYS held kinship with the minorities, the downtrodden, the immigrants, the unwanted, the pillaged, the ethnically cleansed (sic).”
On the face of it, these notions are, of course, utterly farcical. Firstly, Irish pagan society was organized around a caste system with a very strict hierarchy, something common to a wide variety of Indo-European societies before Christianity. The claim that the Irish always had an idea of human equality, let alone always valued it, is nothing short of historically illiterate.
Even more comical is the idea that the Irish always side with migrants, minorities and other victimized outgroups. The Mythological Cycle, which O’Brien often cites, can only really be read as a warning against immigration, as tribes are consistently crushed by the next wave of ‘new Irish’. This theme of xenophobia is crystalized with the character of Bres, a biracial king whose corrupt nature is solely due to his Fomorian heritage, as opposed to his beauty and talent, which arises from his Tuatha Dé blood. How progressive.
What’s more, the recorded actions of the deity O’Brien herself is ‘dedicated’ to also contradicts her claims. The Morrigan, a deity O’Brien seems to claim is a champion of equality and minority rights, is herself complicit in the ethnic cleansing of not one, but two separate ethnic groups. What’s more, it seems that the mythology itself credits her for orchestrating the second of these genocides, which was against the aforementioned Fomorians. Truly a champion of migrant rights.
Aside from these doctrinal failings, there is something fundamentally off-putting about O’Brien’s ministry. Unlike the vast majority of religious leaders, who provide their work free of charge and instead survive off of donations, O’Brien locks a lot of her content behind a paywall, and a steep one at that.
For example, the majority of the courses available on the Irish Pagan School site cost around €20, with the most expensive being an eye-watering €75. Perhaps these are being sold in good faith, and O’Brien believes that these courses are worth the price of admission, but, at least for me, I cannot shake the scent of grift that wafts from this style of practice. The fact that the product seems to be mostly consumed by Americans doesn’t exactly help this impression.
To be clear, I’m not saying that the practice of selling one’s knowledge is dishonest in itself, but that it does not lend credibility to Irish Pagan tradition as a whole in the same way free ministry would.
Despite all these negative aspects, this modern form of cat-lady paganism has become the most prominent form within Ireland. As such, for someone who detests these negative aspects, and does not want to be associated with this sect, it can be beyond frustrating when I am forcibly grouped in with it. Whenever I get into a discussion on religion with a friend, Catholic or otherwise, I will inevitably have to spend the first hour distancing myself from this sort of carry on.
But, as I said before, it doesn’t have to be this way. While O’Brien and co. are the most prominent Irish pagans around, there thankfully are a few dissenters.
A Way Forward
While sadly not based on this island, Youtuber Fortress of Lugh has put out a significant amount of content from a pagan perspective that is both philosophically and historically literate. Unfortunately, his following isn’t exactly large at the moment, but hopefully it will soon see the increase that he deserves for his hard work.
Then there’s Thomas Sheridan. While far from classical in regards to his approach to paganism, Sheridan is most certainly not a cat-lady pagan. An author who cut his teeth writing about psychopathy, Sheridan now focuses on making videos broadly about ancient spirituality, but which frequently branch into comedy, literature, film and politics, and is never afraid of airing a new idea or dissenting opinion.
While most certainly an acquired taste, the Sligo based creator is nevertheless surprisingly influential on the Irish right. More and more, I find myself coming across people actively involved in parties, publications and individual activism that describe themselves as fans of the polymath. Most of these people cite Sheridan’s unique and valuable perspective as the thing that keeps them watching his content. Quite frankly, I myself don’t believe it’s possible to know the meaning of a hot take before watching one of Sheridan’s videos.
Probably the best example of this was his Velocity of Now podcast published after the abortion referendum. The ideas that Sheridan formulates, whether one agrees with them or not, will always leave the listener with an understanding of a topic that they did not have before. This is because Sheridan has an almost otherworldly ability to shift your perspective on a given topic. Such an ability has proven invaluable for many, including myself. He’s definitely worth a follow on his various social media sites. He also has no time for bullshit, which I can very much respect.
Unfortunately though, the likes of these men are not the face of Irish paganism. As of now, that position is taken up by the cat-lady pagans, and their system of beliefs simply is not the kind of thing you could rest a nation on. While Catholics can boast of a faith proven to uphold nations, rightist pagans must contend with a self-serving sense of ‘spirituality’ that undermines their own positions.
The truth is, Irish paganism right now is a farce, and until this modern, anti-philosophical sect is dispossessed from its prominent position, it will remain that way.